PORTSMOUTH, NH — The first questions every observer will ask when NewHampshire polling places close their doors around 8 tonight and clerkstabulate the results of the Democratic and Republican presidentialprimaries will be the essential inquiries: Who won and by how much?
In a media age when even the most complicated stories are reduced tosimple headlines, the news of a Barack Obama landslide on the Democraticside or a John McCain win on the Republican side will dominate earlyreports from the state.
But the real story from New Hampshire will be more nuanced and, perhaps,significant than the identification of a pair of winners and a lot oflosers.
Here are some questions that voters and viewers can ask as the returnsare reported:
Will the frontrunners finish first, and by how much?
How a candidate fares in the expectations game may matter more than the actual results.Pre-primary polls predicted a big Obama win, while McCain was expectedto prevail in a closer race on the Republican side. If Obama’s margin ofvictory over New York Senator Hillary Clinton is narrow, it may be readas something of a stumble for him and a comeback for Clinton. IfClinton were to win the Democratic primary, she would enjoy a monumental”Dewey Defeats Truman” moment–while Obama would be devastated.Similarly, if former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney were to overtakeMcCain on the GOP side, it would be a hugely important win for Romneyover a foe who was at the close of the contest portrayed as very nearlyunbeatable.
Will McCain win the way he did in 2000?
The Arizona senator is not merely competing with current expectations, but also with memories of ahistoric win in New Hampshire. Eight years ago, McCain prevailed with anear majority–49 percent–over four serious rivals. No one expectshim to win that sort of victory this year against an even more crowdedfield. But if he falls far short of his past mark, there will beinevitable speculation about McCain’s declining appeal.
Who will New Hampshire voters recommend for vice president?
The Granite State’s primary ballot allows not merely for presidential voting but for vice presidential voting. New Hampshire electors generally write in thenames of their favorite candidates, with a penchant toward makingpresidential contenders over as vice-presidential prospects. Often,voters write in the names of candidates of the other party. Thus, thevice presidential voting becomes a measure of the cross-party appeal ofpopular contenders.